Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty waves during the Ontario Liberal leadership convention in Toronto January 25, 2013.
"Dad, you always said you wanted to leave the province a better place than when you found it," Premier Dalton McGuinty's son Dalton Jr. told a packed Maple Leaf Gardens Friday night.
"And Dad -- mission accomplished."
Dalton Jr. and Carleen, the two eldest of the premier's four children, took the crowd through a video of their father growing up with his nine siblings and recounted Friday nights with their dad on a blanket with popcorn and board games.
The outgoing premier was also lauded by all six of the candidates seeking to replace him, who each got two minutes to thank him personally.
"What a great party this is and what a great party you are," McGuinty said when he finally reached the stage, thanking all the candidates for their words.
McGuinty was an unexpected politician from the start -- pressed into service as the MPP from Ottawa South after the sudden death of his father, then surprising everyone by surging from a distant third to capture the party's leadership in a marathon convention in 1996.
"It was here, 16 years ago, when they announced the results that Terri grabbed me and gently whispered in my ear: 'You said you weren't going to win,' " McGuinty said.
"Nobody was more terrified than me at that time."
He survived a "Dump Dalton" campaign from disgruntled Grits after he stumbled to a loss in his first general election and then recovered to reel off three straight victories -- falling short of a third straight majority by a single seat in 2011.
He now stands as the most successful Liberal politician in Ontario since Sir Oliver Mowat, who left office in 1896.
He rode an expanding economy through his first few years in office, spending freely on health and education.
But the recession of 2008 saddled the province with a massive deficit and the austerity budgets McGuinty has introduced in the last few years have angered the teachers and public servants who once supported him heavily.
Few expected him to retire when he did last October, abruptly proroguing the legislature and launching the leadership campaign to replace him that concludes Saturday with the election of Ontario's 25th premier.
NDP Leader Andrea Horwath said that the convention offers an opportunity to reflect on McGuinty's longevity, the years he has spent serving first his Ottawa constituents and then all Ontarians as premier.
"Everyone realizes that that's not an easy job," Horwath said.
PC Leader Tim Hudak said the premier has dedicated 22 years to public life, and will now get to spend more time with his wife and children.
"The bottom line here is that while I've never doubted Dalton McGuinty's motive, his dedication to public life, I do seem him as a failed premier."